Jimmy Carter is one of the most skillful politicians in American history. He came out of obscurity to capture the presidency almost 30 years ago. And Monday night, he was back in the hall, haranguing the Democratic convention.
My views on Carter–as president and ex-president–are well known (to regular readers of NRO, that is!). I remind you of the riotous Carterpalooza, published two years ago. And I urge on you Steve Hayward’s new book. But I’d like to say a few words about Monday night.
Carter was introduced by Gov. Bill Richardson, who hailed the ex-president for–among other things–airline deregulation. In that he was right. We then saw a film celebrating Carter, ending with his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize–a prize awarded to him, as the head of the Nobel Committee admitted, for his opposition to President Bush’s policies.
I might say, too, that the film showed Carter clutching Leonid Brezhnev’s hand, in Vienna–but before the infamous kiss between the two! Well edited, DNC!
The film also had President Clinton singing Carter’s praises, which was interesting, because relations between those two southerners were frosty during the ’90s.
The speech itself was harsh, unreasonable, and pure Jimmy Carter. His themes were a) that Bush was a quasi-deserter, b) that he is an “extremist,” c) that he is a warmonger, and d) that he is a liar. Mayor Koch wrote a book about Mayor Giuliani called “Nasty Man.” I think of that phrase when studying Jimmy Carter.
His speech was not well delivered, which was not all that typical, because–though he is no Cicero or Ronald Reagan–you don’t get to be president of the United States without being able to speak a little.
He began with, “My name is Jimmy Carter, and I’m not running for president”–an evocation of his 1976 line, “My name is Jimmy Carter, and I’m running for president” (a line with which he began his acceptance speech, wittily).
He cited Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, who both “faced their active military responsibilities with honor”–unlike whom (you may ask)? “They knew the horrors of war, and later, as commanders-in-chief, they exercised restraint and judgment . . .”–unlike whom?
And they did not “mislead us when it came to issues involving our nation’s security”–unlike whom?
As for John Kerry, “he showed up when assigned to duty, and he served with honor and distinction”–unlike whom?
As Kate O’Beirne said, in the NR workspace, we might have expected such a speech from DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe (“The Macker,” he calls himself)–but from a former president? When the former president is Jimmy Carter–yes.
He also laid great stress on human rights, which he styled his signature as president. But, in those days, when we talked about human rights, we meant, really, South Africa, the Philippines, Chile, and certain other Latin American countries. We never meant the Communist countries.
Carter skewered George W. Bush for ignoring human rights–never mind that this president liberated Afghanistan and Iraq, which countries had two of the most hideous regimes in memory.
I’ve said it a million times in the last year: Even if I opposed the Iraq war, for whatever reason–out of pacifism, out of a conception of realpolitik–I would at least think, “Oh, well: At least there will be no more ‘rape rooms,’ no more children’s prisons, no more chemical gassings, no more mass graves, no more cutting out of tongues for dissent, no more putting men into industrial shredders feet-first, no more . . .”
But Jimmy Carter evidently does not see the destruction of the Taliban and the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship as advances for human rights–probably because those were anti-American regimes. That is part of the tragedy of Jimmy Carter.
The ex-president also denounced Bush for his “unilateralism.” By that he means that Bush does not have unanimous support among America’s traditional allies–France is against us; Belgium is against us; Germany is against us. The others–certainly not the Eastern Europeans!–don’t count.
And Carter blasted Bush for letting the Palestinian-Israeli conflict fester–despite the fact that, thanks to a lessening of illusions, we may be seeing some genuine progress in the Middle East, as Carter’s dear friend Yasser Arafat (see Douglas Brinkley’s eye-opening book) fades away.
How about North Korea? Said Carter, “[That country’s] nuclear menace–a threat far more real and immediate than any posed by Saddam Hussein–has been allowed to advance unheeded . . .” Since when is Carter alarmed by North Korea! He has been a perfumer of North Korea for years.
Of “the Great Leader,” he said, “I find him to be vigorous, intelligent, surprisingly well informed about the technical issues, and in charge of the decisions about this country.” (Carter was in Pyongyang at the time.) He said, “I don’t see that they are an outlaw nation.” And so on.
Toward the end of his speech, Carter faulted Bush for “generat[ing] public panic.” I don’t know about you, but I thought of an earlier Carter scolding–of the American people for “an inordinate fear of Communism.”
One more line from the 39th president: “We cannot be true to ourselves if we mistreat others.” Whom are we mistreating? Mullah Omar? Saddam Hussein?
No, one more: “You can’t be a war president one day and claim to be a peace president the next . . .” Of course, sometimes the only way to be a peace president is first to be a war president, as the most valuable presidents have always known.
But Carter is a different cat. He ended his memoirs with the boast that no American had died fighting abroad while he was president (omitting Desert One). Because some presidents allow threats to gather, other presidents have to make war–or at least be tougher. Jimmy Carter no doubt rallied Democrats with his speech. He should have rallied Republicans, too.